Tag Archives: racism

Martin Luther King Jr. the Radical

Martin Luther King Jr.I’ve been reading The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House lately (can you guess why?) and have been fascinated by the perspective of history. Specifically Martin Luther King Jr.

Admittedly, my understanding of current history (say, the last 60 years) is weak at best. I blame my education when the textbooks crammed anything after World War II into a miniature chapter at the end of the book that we never covered. Of course that was a long time ago and any further lack of education is my own fault. I know the basics of the 1960s and 1970s, but I’m usually lacking context and an understanding of how events relate.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a prime example. I never realized what a radical he was.

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Yes We Can: Hillary Clinton Made Me Cry

Let me start by saying I don’t like Hillary Clinton.

But I got teary eyed watching her tonight during the Democratic National Convention. There were two moments that got me: Her introduction video when she said, “See, you can be whatever you want to be,” and in her speech when she talked about women getting the right to vote and her mother being born before women could vote and her daughter being able to vote for a woman for president.

All my life women and minorities have had the right to vote and have had other equal rights and I’ve never thought much of it. But when you realize that only white men have ever been the face of this country’s highest office, it sends a clear message and you begin to wonder about those equal rights. It’s one thing to say a woman or a black man or a Latino woman or a Jewish man could be president, but it’s another thing to see it happen.

I got teary eyed because this election year a woman and a black man had a chance to be elected President of the United States, and for the first time I realized what that meant for my daughter and my soon-to-be-adopted black child. I can tell them, and reality will back me up, that they can be whatever they want to be.

You could say that fatherhood has made me soft, and you’d be right. Thanks to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for proving you can be whatever you want to be.

Historic Poverty Data and Race

Historic Poverty Data 1959-2006After I wrote this I was wondering about race and poverty. I made the comment that if you’re black you’re more likely to be poor and I wondered what data backed that up. So I found historical poverty tables from the U.S. census, ranging from 1959-2006. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

In 2006:

  • 12.3% of all people were below the poverty line.
  • 10.3% of whites were below the poverty line.
  • 24.2% of blacks were below the poverty line.

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What’s Race Got to do with Test Scores?

A new batch of Minnesota test scores were released this week. Overall it sounds like good news with 75% passing the new test. But it gets interesting as the media starts talking about the various demographics (PDF). I was listening to NPR and they started talking about the various numbers, pointing out that 82% of white students passed, while every other ethnic group saw lower numbers (Black: 41%, Hispanic: 48%, Asian: 63%, American Indian: 55%).

What does race have to do with test scores? The gap between whites and other races is startling. My initial thought was that race has nothing to do with the results, that it’s more likely socio-economic factors. Meaning if you’re black and failed the test, you weren’t more likely to fail because you were black, but because blacks are more likely to be socio-economically disadvantaged, i.e., live in poor areas and attend poor schools. It’s generational poverty. But as I’m looking into it, it seems the black-white test score gap exists regardless of socio-economic factors.

Which is kind of disturbing. What’s causing that gap? Is it institutional racism? Is it more overt racism? I don’t know. My quick Google search and 20 minutes of reading is hardly enough to even begin making me look stupid, never mind coming close to any answers.

Mississippi Town Holds First Integregated Prom

Segregation ended more than 50 years ago but a Mississippi town just held its first integrated prom. Charleston, Miss. has held separate, privately funded proms for black students and white students. Going back to 1997 actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in Charleston, has offered to pay for an integrated prom. This year school officials finally took him up on the offer.

The prom went off without incident and the school is planning to do it again next year. It’s a major step forward even though “some white parents wouldn’t let their kids go, and some insisted on holding a private prom for their kids.”

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never lived in the South and don’t really understand it, but—what?! This is kind of insane. I’m glad to see some forward progress, but taking until 2008 to hold your first interracial prom? Wow. And a bigger wow that some parents wouldn’t let their kids go.

For anyone who doesn’t think racism is still firmly entrenched in society, there you go. (And it’s worth pointing out that I’m not saying racism is only in the South. It’s just more obvious in the South. A black woman once said she’s rather live in the South where you know who hates you, as opposed to the North where people act nice to hide the fact that they hate you.) (link via jonforeman)

Shattering Barriers

Yesterday while watching Barack Obama’s speech and seeing the unbelievable crowd in St. Paul it started to dawn on me just how ground-breaking it is that the Democratic nominee for president is a black man. Seeing that diverse crowd (and that’s saying something in a state that’s 90% white) and hearing Obama preach it (tell me he doesn’t sound like a preacher more than a politician) is pretty inspiring.

What’s especially cool is that it would have been just as ground-breaking if Hillary Clinton had won the nomination. That’s cool. Though it will be even better when these firsts become commonplace.

Pretentious Literary Snot

Sometimes I’m a pretentious literary snot. Unlike most debt-ridden, almost-newlywed, post college twenty-somethings, my wife and I have a library of nearly 800 books (and the number swells monthly). Now we justify it by picking up the books cheap at the used section of Barnes & Noble, where I balk at paying anything over $5 for a book. The 88-cent paperback table is my favorite gold mine.

But sometimes I think all these books make me a bit of a snot. I ride the bus to work and read quite a lot, and I take great pride in telling people how many books I read. Last year I read around 35, and this year I’m on a pace to break 50. I keep a list of the books I read each year, and every time I finish a book and need to select a new one from the shelves, I go over that list in my head and try to find a writer I haven’t read lately. I’d like to say I do this to have some literary diversity, to give myself a broad spectrum of influences, to hear voices from many different cultures, races, genders, societies and times. And that may be true, but I also like having an impressive list of authors I’ve read.

I’ve already read an Anne Lamott book this year, so I pass her up for Barbara Kingsolver, whom I haven’t read since last year. I’ve actually read a few Frederick Buechners, so I better stay away from him. I haven’t read Maya Angelou yet, and I should be able to say that I know why the caged bird sings. Apparently just knowing isn’t enough.

And all this week while reading Maya Angelou’s famous book I keep hoping people notice what book I’m reading. I want them to see this uppity, suburban white boy reading some black literature. I understand your pain. I feel the sting of racism and stand by you in solidarity. That’s what I think. But my actions betray me. Some relative will make a remark about coons and rather than speak my mind I stay silent. I may be seething, and will later consult with my other solidarity-minded relatives and quietly condemn the racist among us, but I never extinguish the hot spark of racism like I probably should. As I walk to my wife’s work in what some would call the wrong end of town I watch my back and pay more attention than I should to each passing car, each African American pedestrian.

I’m as sorry as the rest of them, and it makes me sad.

The other day I was contemplating writing a book about riding the bus and reading books, yet another of the book ideas that cross my mind and slowly slip away unwritten. But the idea of appearing a pompous literary ass who quotes books to sound important soured me.

I like to think I read books because I like to read, not because I want to be important. And I think the best evidence for that is the fact that I’m so quickly swept into the rhythmic plot of a book that I quickly forget to underline witty passages or pay attention to the arrangement of words and sentences the way most writers do. I just read and read, as fast as I can, barreling toward the end of the book to find out what happened.

And maybe that’s how it’s done: being so wrapped up in humanity and discovery and holiness that we don’t realize the passage we quoted is Shakespeare, or the man we befriended is black.

Will the Dream Ever Come True?

Slavery ended over 100 years ago. The Civil Rights movement was 35 years ago. Yet racism is still a part of us. Apparently when they fought for Civil Rights they only meant for us to treat one another civil. Beating the crap out of one another wasn’t looked too highly upon anymore.

But I wonder when the day will come when we can actually live together. When we can do more than tolerate one another. And a lot of people have a problem doing that today. Stereotyping seems to be the only way we can deal with one another. When a white person sees a black person they get scarred. When a black person sees a white person they call racism. And that’s my stereotype of the issue.

It’s such a stupid issue that you can’t even talk about it. What words am I supposed to use? White? Caucasian? Black? African American? It doesn’t help that some words are acceptable for some people, but not for others.

It’s like there’s no way to win. Sometimes I wonder if Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream ever has a chance of coming true on this earth, or if he was looking beyond this sinful planet.